Basenji is a film that challenges its audience, and with some fearless choices from director Ian Scott Clement, we have an experimental film that you easily gravitate towards. Basenji is a film that has you thinking from the start—a wonderful cinematic experience.
After his father is fired for writing an investigative report on Nepal’s agricultural industry, Prabesh, a young man from a poor family in the southern region of Nepal, is sent to Kathmandu to study at a liberal arts college. He quickly befriends his eccentric hostel roommate, Akash, whose conspiratorial ramblings causes Prabesh to re-examine a series of mysterious events surrounding his father’s recent termination. As strange and increasingly disturbing things start happening around him, Akash persuades him to travel to a nearby village to ease his anxiety. Here, deep in the forest, Prabesh has a terrifying encounter that plunges him into the darkest secrets of his past.
The excellent use of first and third-person perspectives allows us to be immersed yet also distant from our characters at the same time. When we watch the events of the film unfold through Prabesh’s eyes, we are all consumed by the environment. However, his attention often drifts away, allowing his focus to wander right when we need him to keep it together for us to see and understand what is happening in his life. It is a wonderful trick from the filmmaker that enables us to get a great shot in the police station. We are positioned over our protagonists shoulder as he admonished by an officer. When we think the shot is over, it suddenly beings to slowly pan around to Prabesh’s bowed and anxious head.
By utilising these techniques Ian Scott Clement and his director of photography Rajiv Manandhar have conjured up something very memorable in Basenji. As the story weaves through the mysteries of Prabesh’s life and journey, you feel as though you can never look away. The camera never settles for a moment, as even in it’s stillest moment, Manandhar’s lens gently sways waiting for the next movement. You are never comfortable from this and it allows the audience to feel just a little of how Prabesh is feeling. In constant movement and never having a moment to settle. He has been moved from his family and is off practically on his own and is immediately thrown into college.
He never gets to just sit and breathe and this is amplified by the arrival of Akash. So when the duo make their journey to that village and beyond, our heightened nervousness for them rises to anxiousness. This poor young man just needs a minute and it seems he will never get it. Basenji expertly brings this to our attention visually and the entire scope of the film from this viewpoint needs to be applauded.
We learn very little about Prabesh, with us only being able to hazard a guess that something dark has occurred quite recently due to his timid nature to everyone around him. He continually seems shell-shocked or is merely gliding through his life as if he still hasn’t woken up from a nightmare. Again this is where the camera techniques utilised excel in delivering the message of the story. Our views are almost always restricted, be it in the first person focus or in that third person set-up. By having the camera never leave him in those moments we see a young man who is in desperate need of help. Everyone bar his uncle is oblivious and even in the school where you would think he would be more supported, he is not. His uncle cannot connect with him despite his numerous attempts. With Prabesh’s parents not around, he has to take responsibility, but what can one do when the person you are trying to help practically shuts down every time?
With a bold, almost dialogue-free final 20 minutes, Clement knows he has his audience with his deconstructed story. Refreshingly Clement and fellow writers Gourav Basnet, Suraj Mainali and Pralhad Rijal never explicitly detail their tale. Leaving us to guess our way through the film. For those who enjoy an open narrative it is a joy to behold, alas those who prefer a more restrictive style of storytelling, you may be a tad frustrated by the film. The film suggests and nudges us along to allow Basenji to become a wholly immersive experience.
With natural performances from the cast, especially the purposely understated Asim Niroula as Prabesh, we as the audience are allowed to place ourselves into the characters. Clement shows that it isn’t just the visual side that he is rather savvy to. If this story was told in a more structured manner it possibly would not work as well. By giving us this experimental almost surrealist approach, we can focus more on the meanings of the film, which is an underrated and underutilised skill in screenwriting.
For those unaware of Clement, he makes it imperative that you search out his other work with Basenji. Having not seen his previous two films Clement makes it vital that you do, especially if they are as visually bold as what he has given us here. Basenji is a must-watch, and where ever it pops up, make sure you watch it. You will not be disappointed with this experimental approach.
For more information about Basenji and Queen’s World Film Festival click here
For more of our coverage of the festival please check out our reviews below:
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